By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival Abdullah Abdullah, both of whom claimed to have won Afghanistan’s presidential election in September, have reached a power-sharing agreement under which Abdullah will lead the government’s efforts to reach a peace deal with the Taliban.
The deal also installs a controversial former vice president, who has been accused of human rights abuses, in a senior military position.
Presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi tweeted an image of Ghani and Abdullah signing off on the agreement in Kabul on May 17.
The United Nations and United States said in statements that they welcomed the agreement.
Sediqqi wrote that Abdullah will lead the newly formed National Reconciliation High Council and that members of his team would be included in the government.
Former Vice-President Abdul Rashid Dostum,an Abdullah team member who once spent nearly four years in exile after being accused of rape and kidnapping, will become marshal of the Afghan armed forces, according to a copy of the agreement.
The agreement ends a political crisis that led to a parallel government and hampered efforts to broker a peace deal ending more than 18 years of war with the Taliban.
Ahead of the signing, a source told the Reuters news agency that the two leaders would each have a 50 percent share in the government. In his tweet, Sidiqqi said that more information regarding the deal would be forthcoming.
Abdullah served as Afghanistan’s chief executive alongside Ghani for six years under a U.S.-brokered power-sharing deal that followed a disputed presidential election in 2014.
Abdullah refused to recognize the results of the poll in September, which was marred by low voter turnout and allegations of fraud.
After election officials in December declared Ghani the winner by a large enough margin to avoid a runoff vote, Abdullah declared himself president, although the international community recognized Ghani’s victory.
Disagreements over the composition of the government have contributed to the delay in negotiations between Kabul and the Taliban to end fighting. The talks were to begin on March 10 under a deal signed in February between the United States and the militant group.
U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said on May 15 that a new date for intra-Afghan peace talks was under discussion.
U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo spoke with Ghani and Abdullah later in the day to congradulate them on the deal, but expressed regret for the “time lost” during the political squabble over the election results, the State Department said in a statement.
Pompeo said he welcomed their commitement to enter intra-Afghan negotiations, adding a settlement to end to the war was a U.S. priority.